Jimmie Ward’s long-range future with the 49ers was uncertain after the 2018 season.
San Francisco’s No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft played just nine games after playing only seven in 2017, and had a history of injuries.
Ward had been shuffled back and forth between cornerback and safety since his rookie season, while also adapting to multiple changes in coaching staffs.
But, the 49ers always have been high on the former Northern Illinois standout, and they brought him back for 2019 on a one-year prove-it deal worth about $4.5 million. Whether the Niners would commit to a longer contract would depend on Ward’s play.
Ward was up for the challenge, had a strong 2019 and has re-signed with the 49ers, agreeing to a three-year contract that could be worth as much as $28.5 million.
Re-signing Ward was among the team’s top priorities this offseason to keep him from hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent. Ward has finally found a home on defense as free safety in Robert Saleh’s scheme, and he played exceptionally well in 2019 in both the regular season and postseason. Over 13 regular-season games he had 65 tackles, eight passes defensed and a sack. Over three postseason games, Ward was in on 13 tackles and forced a fumble.
Anthony Treash of the analytic website Pro Football Focus wrote this week that re-signing Ward has been one of the 49ers’ best offseason moves.
Wrote Treash: “Ward had a lot to prove in 2019 after missing well over half of his career games due to injury. After finishing the season ranked sixth in PFF grade (at free safety), it’s safe to say that Ward proved he is one of the best at his position when healthy. He’s an athletic, versatile player and was vital to the Niners’ defensive success last season.”
Ward had said before the 2019 season he didn’t want to go elsewhere. He said he was happy with how he played this past year, but believes he can improve.
“I still don’t feel like it was a great season for me,” he told Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. “I feel like I showed people that I can just be healthy. That was the main thing for me. I’m going to make plays, but that big season that I really want is going to happen. I’m only going to get better.”
As Wagoner noted, by re-signing Ward, the 49ers go into 2020 with 10 defensive starters back from 2019. Only DeForest Buckner, traded to the Colts recently, will be absent.